ECM debut for Michael Formanek, whose formidable bass has propelled groups from the Mingus Big Band to Tim Berne’s Bloodcount and has backed artists as diverse as Chet Baker and Elvis Costello. A bandleader and composer in his own right, he is heard here with some highly-talented colleagues in an outgoing programme of his own pieces, whose unorthodox constructions set up strong solos and fiery group interaction.
The Distance represents a grand creative leap for bassist-composer Michael Formanek, following two widely lauded ECM releases featuring his quartet with Tim Berne, Craig Taborn and Gerald Cleaver. The new album showcases his texturally rich compositions for the dynamic 18-piece big band he has playfully dubbed Ensemble Kolossus. The project saw some of the most distinctive musicians on the New York scene bonding to realize Formanek’s epic design, as he re-imagined what a big band can be. Channelling sounds from the classic to the modern, he also composed for individually expressive soloists in the Ellingtonian tradition. Along with the dark-hued romanticism of the title track, The Distance features the “Exoskeleton” suite – a kaleidoscopic musical experience in which Formanek’s bold, beautiful vision for 21st-century large-ensemble jazz comes vibrantly to life.
Small Places is double bassist/composer Michael Formanek’s follow-up to “The Rub and Spare Change”, his widely lauded ECM debut as a leader. If anything, Small Places is a step beyond this quartet’s first release, with the compositions and improvisation blending so seamlessly that a listener is scarcely able to tell where one leaves off and the other begins. Earthy yet atmospheric, this is very 21st-century American jazz, the music brimming with piquant riffs and muscular ostinatos, rich in melodic possibility and the sound of surprise.
Michael Omartian's music is extremely hard to come by. Why remains a mystery. Although his output is by no means prolific, he, together with wife Stormie, was responsible for much of the best CCM of the '70's and '80's. "White Horse" is for me in the Top Ten all time Christian albums while "Seasons of the Soul" holds a special place in my heart. This Album from 1991 consists of songs written, mostly in collaboration with Michael Anderson ( another somewhat underrated artist).
For this, his seventh soundtrack for director Peter Greenaway, Nyman deftly orchestrates a mix of strings, horns, and voices to produce another of his fetching and romantic minimalist backdrops. The opening "Memorial" is the highlight of the lot and drives along with stuttering saxophones, an insistent string arrangement, elegiac brass solos, and the soaring vocals of soprano Sarah Leonard (Leonard would be featured on a large part of the Prospero's Books soundtrack). The piece was originally inspired by a 1985 Belgian soccer match tragedy, in which 39 Italian fans were killed. Nyman utilized a death march in his earlier Greenaway collaboration, Drowning by Numbers, and revives the scheme to great effect here for what would become the main theme of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover. Nyman contrasts the piece's climatic quality with two relatively sedate yet brooding numbers.
The Best of Michael Franks: A Backward Glance is a good 15-track collection that is equally divided between soft rock like "Popsicle Toes" and smooth jazz. Any curious listener looking for a one-stop introduction to Franks would be well served with this collection. Among the highlights are "The Lady Wants to Know," "Antonio's Song," "When the Cookie Jar Is Empty," "Tiger in the Rain," "Baseball," "Your Secret's Safe with Me," "When I Give My Love to You," "The Art of Love," "Soul Mate," and "Hourglass".